Although Australia is at the top of almost everyone’s travel wish list, I don’t get the feeling that Western Australia is what first comes to mind. More often wanderlusters list Sydney with its Opera House or the Red Center and its giant rock as places they first want to visit, and that makes sense. But they should also plan on including a visit to Australia’s largest state, Western Australia, on that first trip. Although some of the places in Western Australia (WA) that make it so great may not be on the tip of the average tourist’s tongue, that doesn’t mean they are any less impressive. Of all the reasons I love visiting Western Australia, these five are why I think all first time visitors to the Land Down Under should include a break in WA on their schedule.
1. Natural beauty and coastal retreats
Australia is a massive continent and one that contains a tremendous amount of natural beauty, in all shapes and sizes. I think for me personally though it was this natural component of Western Australia that appealed most to me. A short boat ride from Perth is one of the state’s crown jewels, Rottnest island. This small retreat is a popular spot to get away from it all and bask in the warm sunshine. It’s also fun to explore on a daytrip; renting a bike and circumnavigating Rottnest is easy to do. Along the way you’ll also find the island’s most famous resident, the quokka. This strange marsupial is found in a few places but Rottnest is where it thrives.
Further up the coast is Monkey Mia, a strange sounding name for a beautiful coastal getaway. The resort is nice enough, but even more impressive I think are the parks found nearby, preserving the desert outback and the sweeping coastlines for future generations. Rent a 4X4, take enough gas and discover private hideaways that if located anywhere else in the world would be crawling with resorts. Another short drive from Monkey Mia is Hamelin Pool, home to the stromatolite, the evolutionary link to the formation of life on earth. These strange creatures may not look like much, but they’re exceedingly rare to find and Hamelin is one of the best places on the planet to see them in the wild.
Perth is often overlooked and I don’t think that’s fair. Perth is fairly remote in the context of world geography, a fact that drew me to it in the first place. It’s also the business capital of the state, a region that has done very well in recent years when it comes to natural resources. The city’s reputation is not dissimilar from my own hometown of Washington, DC, that it’s just a place where people work but not where they really live. During my visit I saw how that is changing, and changing fast. Thanks to changes in local laws, new restaurants and bars are popping up all over the downtown core, keeping people in the city longer and attracting them more often. The result is a cultural rebirth of the downtown area, helped along by artists, quirky shops and fun places to visit.
I went on a small cafe/restaurant tour while in town and was really surprised to find the amazing eateries hidden down laneways and behind main streets. They reveal the quirky, almost Bohemian side to the city that may be easy to miss at first glance. Perth is also lucky enough to have a number of fun things to do, from some amazing public beaches to world-class museums. So when you visit Western Australia, don’t just pass through Perth; stay there and explore for a while.
3. Golden Outback
Western Australia is huge, half of the Australian Continent to be exact and to see everything would take years. But one place to consider is the so-called Golden Outback. A century ago, it was the city of Kalgoorlie and the region as a whole where thousands of people from around the world descended upon to strike it rich in the mines. The mines are still running and that feeling of exploration and adventure is also still alive and well. The best way to experience this region is by renting a truck and heading out into the great Outback. There are routes you can follow that take you along the Ghost Town Trail, sharing the Old West history of the region and providing some really interesting insights to the people who settled it. Along the way stop off at places like the Broad Arrow Tavern for a great burger and spend the night at the Hoover House, the unlikely former estate of the 31st President of the United States. Of course there’s also Lake Ballard, a normally dry lake that is also home to an unlikely art installation. In 2003, famed artist Antony Gormley created 51 statues along 4 square miles of the lake, each figure a scale representation of a nearby resident. It’s eerie, it’s unusual and it’s not to be missed. No matter what you decide to do in the Outback, make sure you expend the effort to visit.
4. Food, Wine and Margaret River
Chances are if you made it as far as Western Australia, then the beautiful Margaret River Valley is on your agenda, as it should be. An easy drive south from Perth, the Margaret River area is one of the top wine producing regions in the world. And like most wine-centric spots, there’s also an amazing food culture to enjoy. Oenophiles could spend weeks exploring the many small and medium sized wineries in this small coastal region; a unique set of weather conditions and geography make it a prime location for wine production. Wine isn’t the only potent potable being produced though, a number of small breweries are just now emerging, indicating a larger trend in Australia towards finely produced, craft beers. At both the wineries and the breweries, you can also enjoy fine dining for every palate. More than just great meals, it’s also easy to find specialty food producers, like the number of chocolatiers who have decided to set up shop in the Margaret River area. After you’re done drinking and eating, be sure to relax on the beach, which is never very far away. I was impressed by Margaret River for its somewhat unique ability to combine adult and family friendly activities in a way that few other wine producing regions have managed to do.
5. Quirky Finds
I think Australia in general is a slightly off-kilter place – and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It’s just an odd country full of life-loving but eccentric individuals. Only in Australia will you find the cassowary, an animal straight out of Jurassic Park and only in Australia could a Prime Minister just vanish into the sea. But it’s also quirky and unusual in more entertaining ways, like the statue of AC/DC lead man Bon Scott found in Fremantle or the innumerable road signs warning of exotic and possibly mythical creatures crossing the street. All around Western Australia, I found instance after instance of fun quirky travel moments and those, perhaps more than anything, made me fall deeply in love with this giant but friendly state.
What are some other reasons to love Western Australia?